Sunday, May 13, 2012

Bustling Bristol

I have never felt as hipster as I did in Bristol. Not even at the Goan carnivals and Gokarna beaches. But, Bristol is the "nice" kind of hip place, if you ask me. Something in the air, I guess.

Voted as the best city to cycle around, the city boasts of a large number of cyclists (many who have done cycle trips across the world!). The cycle paths are refreshing! Do rent a bike whilst you are in Bristol. Oh I dont have to tell you, you'll do it without prompting. Its something in the air, I guess.

The city centre is abuzz with young people. Hip young people, might I add. It hardly comes as a surprise that the city has a lovely, lovely display of graffiti on its walls. Beautiful graffiti. People (oh well, graffiti loving people) come to Bristol to tour it – you might want to stay and nod at the Banksy one. But the rest are so lovely as well :: the lady and the child, light streaming out, the dog, the three headed monster, I love bristol, colour, colour, whacky colour – you get the idea? You want to let your hair down and spray paint out here – Its something in the air, I guess.

The pubs in Bristol are sweet. They really are. I visited on a saturday and it was quite busy: but almost every eatery and pub on the main city street had music. People looked artsy, music felt artsy. Bristol has a lot of “bike repair and maintanance classes” (unsurprisingly). There's a lot of folk story telling, open mic and jam sessions, Shakti yoga (Oh yeah) that happens in pockets and places. The day I went visiting, Bristol had the feed 5000 campaign going on – a pioneering, revolutionary movement originally started by Tristram Stuart. (Oh google it up: feeding the 5k! Im a bit to lazy to type it out right now. But on a day when Ive breakfasted well, I'll surely tell you all!). Makes me wonder if India could use some inspiration from here! Bristol felt like it was bursting with new ideas. I even got an idea or two myself. Its something in the air, I guess.

The sky line of bristol beams with light. I saw it from atop a hill, post midnight. My poetic philosophical mood was gently reminded of a growing, bustling, happening city in my vicinity– by the noisy M32 echoing into the night. It was really something in the air, I guess.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Totnes - UK's lil Bohemia!

Totnes is a scenic train journey away from Exeter. Refreshingly scenic. One passes the river Exe and then passes by the sea and in forty minutes of all this passing, one finds oneself at Totnes. The train station is small, the little town is small. But the ideas in Totnes are huge and influential, like its people.
Known for its artists, thinkers, organic farms, eco friendly houses, forward-looking people, revolutionary ideas : Totnes is one of its kind. The high street is devoid of primark and zara (though my heart flutters a little when I see them, it flutters better when I dont!) Instead there is a whole assortment of “alternative” clothing stores. The saturday market is filled with clothes, dvds, aisles, paints, paintbrushes, plants, collectibles, curiousities, jaggery, glassware and what not! Its like Aladdin's cave, just the brighter less-dinghy version of it. Dartington, just off Totnes hosts a number of lovely, green, beautiful self-sustainable houses.

Totnes is a pioneer. Its a place where “Transition” is very popular. In case you haven't heard of it, Totnes and many other parts of the world, are now preparing themselves for a world in the times of “peak oil” (ie, the point in time when the maximum rate of petroleum extraction is reached, after which the rate of production enters terminal decline). Based on a movement by Rob Hopkins, the Transition takes after the Permaculture ways. Basically, Totnes tries to build a sustainable, less oil dependent community. They talk of “food feet” (growing and using locally grown food). Totnes has its own currency, called 'Totnes Pounds' which can be used in its stores. All these are little steps towards building a self contained and self sustainable environment.
There's never a dull moment in Totnes. Its known for its vibrant theatre scene. If you're into music, the place has a large number of world music afficiandos. The cuisine at Totnes is remarkable : from Bangladeshi to Mexican with everything in between (and organic too!).
Gifted with picture postcard scenary, Totnes is breathtaking. Its close to dartmoor, all the combes, the coast and the metropolitans. But who wants to leave Bohemia? Not I!

Monday, April 9, 2012


What's really lovely about Exeter, is that its not London. Decentralized smaller urban spaces are so much more endearing, feel good, fairy tale like than a giant 24X7 city. Exeter and the rest of Devon, are so much more personalised, I feel. Its no sleepy town, this. In fact, by some random googling and wiki-ing, one can ascertain that Exeter is one of the most coveted places to base your business out of, in the UK. The University of Exeter pumps in the adrenaline into the city. Stylish, cheaper than london, with a lot of students : Exeter is quite the fun destination (if you know your lanes, nooks and corners, that is).

There are two railway stations in Exeter : the St David's and then the Exeter Central (Not that they're really far away or anything. Just might help with your logistics). The London to Exeter journey took me a good three hours. Green fields, with cotton ball like sheep made me think of the movie Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (its a popular Bollywood film, in case you're wondering. The title roughly translates to “The moony lover boy will take his bride away” (in the dialect of Hindi, which I call my-poor-Hindi-translation-skill), somehow.

I stayed with a friend on Black boy street. Once you get out of the central railway station, you'll be welcomed and warmly so, by an assortment of stores at the High street. They have the regular chain of brands, you wont miss Oxford street too much. Its nice to see a buzzing lane anytime, innit? Girls, you know where to shop now.

Exeter is an old city. To answer your historical questions, in a nutshell : “The Romans did it”. A cathedral, magnificent magnificent cathedral stands proudly – reminding us of the history of the place. Watch out for the “green men” in the cathedral : the image of a human or beast's body or head, either surrounded by foliage or with foliage coming from the mouth, eyes or nose, exists in carvings, mostly in religious buildings, throughout Europe and indeed as far away as Asia. But this is the second largest concentration of green men in UK. The cathedral itself is huge, beautiful and elegant. My unskilled vocabulary cant really describe it very well – for I know rudimentary terms like “arches” and “towers” in architecture. But what I mean to say, is probably better said by pictures, poets and architects.

The “green” around the cathedral is picnic-cute. The day I went, was warm and sunny. A lot of people were found relaxing on the green. Ah, picnics! I found a rather interesting cosy make-shift cafe around the green. Its open just from 12 – 1:30 every day and random stuff happens every day : something new and unusual.

I then walked up to the quay. I really thought it was, pardon my disney way of thinking and expression, “cute”. Brown stone lanes lining the blue waters, with ice cream shops and cafes, young and old strolling, some holding hands (and some not, but we wont talk about them) with little white birds (whose name I dont know) flying around : I would have ideally expected prince charming to spring up from somewhere with a bouquet to give me (No, it didnt happen, in case you're wondering).

In Exeter, I caught up with two plays (thanks to my friend, who was volunteering at the theatre at that time). The Cygnet New theatre is a three year course, training artists all over the UK and Europe. Students work on many productions simulaneously. The seating around the place was really different, with no “stage” as such. Its rather creative and up close. I remember seeing this double play about identities. The first play was about the “resting therapy” and how people react to it. The second was about identities again, the inner soul and the outer appearances. (It may be too much information, but its my blog!) The actors were young, beautiful and the shows were really well done.

The sky line of exeter during the night, overlooking the quay is gorgeous. I'd make it my wall paper.

Exeter is a nice base: its close to so many other interesting places. But even in itself, it has a history dating as far back as the 250 BC. Its people, the real “Devonians”, its unique culture, its newly acquired international feel (partly due to the university bringing in International students), its picturesque streets are engaging and intriguing. Exeter reminds me of the fundamentals, a city on a river bed (Exeter is built around the river Exe), like every civilization started. The city has character. And like in every part of Devon, you can get the devonshire tea here, with clotted cream. It is, after all, the heart of Devon. This, is what I'd truly call a “comforting” city.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

6 and a half minutes

How long will the bus take to arrive? It should be here in about 4 minutes. It takes us 7 and a half minutes to run from the station back home and 5 and a half if we're real slick runners. The movie will show at fifty five minutes past four (well, five to five, if you must). The cab should come in every three and a half minutes during sundays and two and a half on the others.
For your pizza to be custom made, it will take 8 and a three fourth minutes (okay, 8 and a quarter to the next minute). It will be two minutes and 23 seconds before the traffic light changes to the “walker's green”. The journey to Leicester square from South Ken will take me approximately 23 minutes (not 23 and a half, you notice?)
We will go on a 8 and a quarter minute drive. Then in that remaining of the three fourth of a minute and until the next ten minutes and twelve seconds, we'll think of something else to do – apart from drive (oh yes, Im sure we're all thinking people). Then I have to rush to “hot yoga” class (where we do yoga at a higher room temperature than normal) and hold my breath for three quarters of six minutes. Texting my friends should then take me a couple of minutes (well, a couple or two or three more. You know. But its all timed )
Our meal times are exactly 20 minutes. I tea for precisely 16 minutes and 16 seconds. After which, we all resume our chores. At exactly 5, we shall stop doing these chores. We shall hang out for precisely forty minutes doing what ever you fancy, maybe hang out in the pub – wherein our drinks may not arrive within the known limit of 6 minutes and 4 seconds. Blimey, its so crowded! But we shall not complain about it – since we can save more time later.
We shall all be at work at 9 am and zero seconds. We shall leave our little nests at 7:30 and 0 seconds. We shall read that book or newspaper on the so-so-so-very cramped tube: well, it saves us time! We shall brush our teeth for 13 seconds (only), we shall spare a minute to take the umbrella.
A peck on the cheek: 6 seconds, a hug : 13 seconds, a handshake : 12 seconds. Exchanging pleasantaries: a good 7 and 2/3 minutes. The British sense of impeccable timing (with their humour, apart from everywhere else) and saving time : Timeless!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Exhibit "Exhibition Road"

Here's the road that I've probably spent a lot of time walking about, in London. You can quote me saying that when I'm rich and famous. If I'm not, just use it as an anonymous quote.

If we all had to live in a time capsule, I'd say it would have to be on Exhibition road. Its not so long ago (relatively speaking, relative to the “universe” by and large) that man found fire. Its hardly a few centuries since the Industrial revolution happened. So if one wanted to condense all of the history of mankind and other creatures on earth, wrap it into a street – it would be this one.

The Natural History Museum stands majestically on Exhibition road. It has a regal look. Im reminded of the “brief history of time” as I talk about this one. The museum is a marvel. It is awe inspiring and humbling to see what walked the earth before us, who, how and what they left behind as a legacy.

Science and technology work “for us”, dont you think? Its like Jeeves, the butler. We use science all the time, but its very much in the back ground. Art almost always steals our hearts, to distraction. The Victoria and Albert museum on Exhibition road, lets you colour your imagination. With new exhibitions and innovations often enough, the V&A is the grand-chest of art treasures. Let the Greek sculputures find your Achilles' heel here.

The walls of the V&A, have some war-wounds, which are well preserved. The dents on the wall were caused by the Blitzkreig and now are a gentle reminder of the vagaries of war.

My most favorite destination, Imperial college London stands proud and strong on Exhibition road. The Queen's tower – a symbol of learning, research, pioneering in science – is an important landmark (it's inside the college, well – its not directly ON the main road).

The recently unveiled “new look” of the exhibition road, has a more gentle, more elegant layout. The benches in the middle of the rather busy street – let you let your gaze stand still for a minute, whilst you sit and stare. The road is always buzzing with students from university, general traffic, a lot of school children visiting the museums and our best friends, the pigeons.

The road is strategically close enough to Hyde park (serpentine, which is a five minute walk away), Royal albert hall (sigh, I know!) and a selection of “High” end stores.

There is often a truck that sells peanuts, ice creams and other eating-trinkets on the road. Treat yourself, if you've been good.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Looking for a face

When you begin to look for a face, you can't stop staring.

The Picadilly line is London's little moving beehive. At 8 a.m, its the hardest thing to find space on.

I could say he was Italian. He had to be. His hair was black. Long nose, broad shoulders, a casual kind of stance, holding onto to the pillar. He was immaculately dressed, like everyone else – tie and suit. But the first button undone is a dead give away you know, its “casual”. I would imagine he could say “Buon giorno, Principessa!” just like the lead in 'Life is Beautiful' and be very savvy about wine. There was no sign of the western placidity on his face. But wait, he could be Greek too I suppose. I can't say, not yet.

She was sitting. Legs crossed. The cream sweater, gray skirt, black shoes, brunette. She had very flushed cheeks. French manicured hands, holding on to an ipad. Eyes were blue, tending towards gentle gray. Kind of reminds you of a gentle aquatic bird, who would peacefully fly short stretches, but then would stop for tea. When I looked up to meet her eyes, she smiled. A kind of wordless “hello there!” But it was a very formal smile, like someone just shook your hand. She wore tiny ear drops. A kind of simplicity and elegance, that made sure no one would be offended. She had to be English, if I had to make a guess.

Somebody had to read the “Daily Mail”. He had a copy. Well, in his defence, its something to do on the silent, packed tube. He was middle aged, I could say. Black, very little hair, curly though. Thick lower lip. Atheletic. Very wise looking eyes, like a pool almost. I'm fascinated by how people's hands look, actually. His were those “no nonsense” types – very short nails, well cut. There was a kind of warmth around him. I guess I thought so cause I always imagined Mr.Braithwaite to look that way.

Stylish. Fashionable. Fur coated. Pink nail polish-ed. Young. Small eyes. Dainty. Talking to another girl in hushed, excited tones. “Sheng ma” One picks up Mandarin in London. She had a very determined look in her eyes. Something that would tell you, here isn't someone who shies away from turbulence. Now, if I hadn't heard “Sheng ma”, I would take my time to surmise a guess. It's not very easy for me to tell a Thai from Chinese. Heck, she could well be from Hong kong, she was very stylish. But its rare for someone in Hong kong to speak Mandarin, I suppose. They'd speak Cantonese. Something I wouldnt know anything about.

Ah, the heavy bags meant he was coming in from the airport. The Picadilly meant Heathrow. Casual tees, a tired, exhausted look, sneakers. Heck, where was his coat? Was “london” too warm for him? He was white, with brownish hair. Tall. Lanky. I tried hard to be able to say – but really, he could ideally be from anywhere. I wouldn't know unless he spoke. But speaking is a virtual no-no on tubes. Yes, cause talking is intrusive.

I know – she had to be Indian. The ring, the “mangal sutra”, medium height, brown,wearing formal pants instead of leggings. Confident. Beautiful eyes, almost fish like – she could very well be from Bengal. She wore earrings. Its probably cause I'm Indian, that I attribute a lot of patience and tolerance to all of us. I sort of can't really put into words the amount of things I could sense about her. Its too much information to put on paper. For starters, she'll know Sachin Tendulkar and Paani Puris.

When I had to make my way out, it was hard to move. Partly because there wasn't too much space and partly because it was hard to tear my gaze away. Cause when you look and you sense, you feel awe. Awe at finding the whole world, in the picadilly. It reeks beauty, you know. London is truly a work of art. And I just cannot stop staring.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Enchanting Edinburgh (Edin-bur-raw)

It's where art, beauty and a funny way of speaking live in a menage-a-trois. Its where many a writers, many a famous goons, many happy drinkers and many magical creatures walk merrily. Its a land of beauty, history, castles and whisky. Kilts, bagpipes, ghosts, ghouls, dungeons, poetry, sea, kings, you and me.

When I first saw Edinburgh, I thought it was like chocolate wafer. Light brown stone buildings (unlike dark red or white london) and towers and castles everywhere! The city is one of the most beautiful in the world and rightly so. Its a visual treat, literally. If I could have eaten Edinburgh, I would have!It is very traveller friendly (I personally dislike being called a 'tourist'). Budget stays, maps, guides, directions and whisky – this city is the traveller's favorite.

The edinburgh castle rests elegantly atop a beautiful mountain. The mountain is so picturesque – it tugs at your arteries and veins. The once-upon-a-time volcanic mountain, now gorgeously brown, golden, yellow, green – with blue skies and a magnificent castle, feels like a little monster jumping over your superior and inferior venacava. In short, its poetic. The castle's history spans the Iron age, middle ages, new ages – so there has been plenty of action. Saint Margaret, popular for her deeds of charity, lived here. There were many historically important events that took place here – including the Scottish wars for independence. A chunk of the castle is a tribute to the Scottish soldier. The ornate, immaculately dressed, brave and courageous – almost “mills and boon”ish image, in the backdrop of a historic castle, is sure to get any lady swooning. What struck me most remarkable, was the idea of the “huge naval fleet”. For being a tiny island, in comparision to the land masses elsewhere, the UK sure conquered more than half the world! Its hard not to admire the efficiency. And equally hard to not admire the spirit of the average Brit who voted against imperialism and was for relinquishing its colonies (I know Im digressing to talk about UK instead of scotland now, but the thoughts came rushing in at the castle and I couldnt really be bothered to classify them). The war memorial in the castle has weapons, details of war, but ends with a section on “red cross” and the destructions war can bring. Its true, United Kingdom has had its share of youthful young blood and conquests, but its also true that she is a wiser, much more charming lady now. The view of Edinburgh from the castle is again, picture perfect. One sees much of the chocolate brown, hogwarts kind of city, with the sea at the far end in its horizon. Its hard not to swoon.

Calton Hill – is one of the most beautiful sights that I've ever seen. Terribly windy in january, this place literally blows you away. No wonder so many poets and painters refused to leave this place – its hard to part with, I'd imagine. Robert Burns (and the city of edinburgh celebrates the Burns' night in January in his honour), Robert louis stevenson, Sir Walter scott, Sir Arthur conan doyle, JM Barrie, Ian Ranking, JK Rowling and many other celebrated authors and poets attribute much of their inspiration to this place. Calton hill has the parthenon-styled National Monument, built to commemorate the Scottish soldiers who died in the Napoleonic wars. Lots of festivals take place in calton hill – like the Beltane fire festival (april) and wait for it – the dushera (in october).

Let's talk watering holes. Burns said, “Whisky and freedom gang thegither” and you sure will be raising a toast to that. Scotland has a lot of bars and pubs. Let me emphasize the word, “lots”. I tried my first Glen Kinchie here (though its universally available). There are some really popular bars – like Deacon Brodie tavern (Deacon brodie, popular for being notorious!) You can do a literary pub crawl here, no kidding. Get high on it! By the way, I found vegetarian food more easily available in Edinburgh. Almost every food-jaunt has a “vegetarian” option. Do not forget to try “haggis” and well, chips with curry. Authenticity guaranteed.
Walk down the Royal Mile. This street has pubs, “dungeons” (if you're into spook, then you can get a chill or two at the Dungeons. Go hang out with the ne'er do good-ers), random bagpipe players, lots of curious stores, lots of headless men reading the newpapers (I am not kidding!). Its a must-do, for a completely new experience of experiencing something new.

There is a high-street, with the regular stores. But that can wait till you wander around all the different “markets”. The streets of Edinburgh have this really magical feel to it – like I was sure I'm going to see Harry Potter playing quidditch at some point in time, here. Beautiful cathedrals, more castles, more big brown chocolate, beautiful skies – take a good supply of adjectives with you to be able to describe them.

I am completely bewitched by Edinburgh. You?